5 Easy Tips to Deepen Your Characterization



Don’t you like characters in novels to come across so real you look them up in an online directory? My guest today, Marian P. Merritt, gives pointers to do just that. After you’ve collected her tips, be sure to learn more about her new novel, The Vigil, after her post.


Marian says:

1.  Do an Extensive Character Interview

Know your main characters well. BE NOSY! This is the only time you have a license to pry, so go for it. Ask pointed questions, delve deep into their past and get to the root of their fears, motivations, quirks, etc. There are many interview sheets available on the web, check them out to get an idea.

I suggest creating your own for two reasons:

  1. The process of determining what is important to ask and what isn’t will help you as a writer.
  2. You’ll know how to ask the questions that will bring out the important traits of YOUR characters.

Author Janalyn Voigt’s recent Live Write Breathe blog post contained a link to a Writers Helping Writers Character Profile Questionnaire.

 2.  Use Setting

Setting can have a dual role—to ground the reader in the environment, but also to symbolize the character’s emotions. Let your setting be more than a backdrop for your story, let it be an extension of your characters. A way to blend the character with the setting.

photo by John Sullivan
photo by John Sullivan

But keep it simple and use sparingly like the Filé in da Gumbo. Because a pinch enhances and blends, a handful overpowers and ruins.

Examples: An emotional upheaval in a character’s life can be symbolized by the condition of her house, car, yard, garden etc. Use something your character loves doing or caring for and show their lack of attention or increased attention because of their emotional state. 

For wonderful examples, see Sandra Leesmith’s Seekerville post where she references Mary Buckham’s book, Writing Active Setting.

3.  Use Descriptions with Actions

ID-100276538Don’t just describe. Show your character along with their actions.

Describe by telling: Jenna had a pointed nose and wide hips.

Show with Action: Jenna fisted her hands upon her ample hips and stared down her pointed nose.

Can you see Jenna a little better? We get emotion and description.

In his book, Building Believable Characters, Marc McCutcheon says, “combine a physical description with some form of action.” 

4.  Show Clearly the Character’s Goals, Obstacles, and Fears

Image courtesy of kantapat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of kantapat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let the reader see the character’s goals. They then know what to root for and will see the roadblocks for the character. Showing your character’s strengths and flaws will be tapping into what their fears are and why. Making for a deeper more relatable character.

Art Holcomb gives more on Storyfix2.0.


5.  Give Your Reader Something They DEEPLY Care About

mp900433140.jpgThis can be: A cause, an object of great sentimental value, a place, or a person outside of their family. This gives the reader a glimpse into your character’s heart. What they hold dear tells a lot about a person. 

Zoe, thanks for having me here today. Readers, these are just a few of the ways to create deeper richer characters. Can you add an easy way to deepen characters to this list?


Marian P. Merritt -Headshot

Marian Pellegrin Merritt writes stories that blend her love of the mountains with her deep Southern roots. Her tagline, Where the Bayous Meets the Mountains, grew from both loves. She is the author of, Deep Freeze Christmas, A Cajun Christmas Miracle, and Southern Fried Christmas.

Her latest release, a Women’s Fiction novel, The Vigil, can be purchased at online retailers.

Marian is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy and an accounting certificate from the University of South Alabama.

This Louisiana native writes from the Northwest Colorado home she shares with her husband and a very spoiled Labradoodle.

Connect with her through Website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter Marian P. Merritt’s Readers Group

Buy links to Marian’s Books: http://www.marianmerritt.com/#!/cnec

TheVigil_h11658_680THE VIGIL 

Cheryl Broussard made two vows: She’d never fall for an abusive man, and she’d never return to her Louisiana hometown. But she’s learned all too well the lesson of never-say-never. Now, back in Bijou Bayou after fleeing from an abusive boyfriend, Cheryl finds work as a Hospice nurse. While reading a dying patient’s Korean War love letters, family secrets shatter Cheryl’s beliefs about her family and herself and shed light on the reason she fled her hometown. When the Broussard family secrets are revealed, can Cheryl deal with the truth and accept the blessing of a second chance for relationships with her family, old friends, and with the God she never really knew?



How to Make Your Surly Character Likeable

“Well, the thing about great fictional characters from literature, and the reason that they’re constantly turned into characters in movies, is that they completely speak to what makes people human.” —Keira Knightley

Image courtesy of Rosemary Ratcliff / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Rosemary Ratcliff / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have a surly character in my inspirational contemporary romance. Allie is ill-mannered because people and events have hurt her in the past and she’s had enough. She has much room for growth. How am I going to make readers care enough about her to read her story? 


  • Do you have a character who’s surly and might be disliked by your readers?
    click to tweet

So what am I to do?

  • Be true to my character’s position at the opening of my story. Allie is flawed. She’s quick to misjudge people.
  • Recognize, especially at the beginning, the times Allie is too harsh with little good to balance her disposition.
  • Give indications of the true person who lies beneath Allie’s current tack toward insolence.
  • Show Allie’s fears, hopes, and struggles.
  • Show a moment when Allie is vulnerable. Especially near the beginning.
  • Feed in bits of backstory as necessary to show why she acts as she does. When Allie is brusque, give a memory that makes her fear letting a person see her soft side.
  • Continue to give glimpses of Allie’s internal goodness as the story unfolds.
  • Make her able to do things by the end of the story that she isn’t able to do at the beginning. Allie will be able ask Jesus to come into her life. She’ll strive not to misjudge others. She’ll ask for forgiveness from others and forgive those who’ve hurt her.


  • How do I show my surly character’s internal goodness?
    click to tweet

    by cjhulin85
    by cjhulin85
  • Have Allie do something at the beginning of the story that shows she has redeeming qualities.
  • Give Allie thoughts and physical reactions to her wounds, dreams, hopes, and fears. Other characters may not recognize Allie’s deep emotions but her feelings will come across to the reader.
  • Show Allie what she sounds like to herself when she speaks harshly. At times, show her wanting to be better than a person who speaks like that.
  • Show moments in which Allie is honest about past events, her struggles and fears, and her hopes and dreams.

But what if she’s over-the-top surly for much of the story? I hope I can make Allie more likeable without resorting to these.recite-26912-292788037-188q2fb

  • Give your character a unique flaw that you play up so readers enjoy “hating” the character.
  • Give your character an enemy who is more unlikeable than your main character.


  • What traits are turn-offs that I should avoid giving my main characters?
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  • Bullying
  • Patronizing
  • Picking on weaker people
  • Using violence to get her way
  • Gaining pleasure from ruining others’ lives
  • Moaning about hardships
  • Holding lots of pity parties
  • Making wrong inferences and not allowing others to explain themselves
  • Gossiping to hurt others
  • Lying all the time

What do you use or have seen others use to make surly characters likeable?